Pace of Brain Development Still Strong in Late Teens
The brain changes during the teen years, for instance by pruning away connections that no longer seem needed. By measuring the brainwave signals of sleeping teens ages 15-16 and again a few years later, researchers found that the process does not appear to slow as teens approach adulthood.
Boys and girls have put many of the trappings of teenagerhood behind them by the age of 18 or 19, but at least some of the brain resculpting that characterizes the decade of adolescence may still be going as strong as ever, according to findings in a new study that measured brainwaves of subjects in their midteens and again in their late teens.
One of the kinds of neurological changes underway in a teen brain is a pruning of unneeded connections forged earlier in life -- the brain invests in developing some connections but sheds a higher volume of others. One way these changes can be measured, many researchers believe, is a drop in the power, or amplitude, of brainwaves over time.
What researchers found in their study of sleeping teens, said Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Sleep Research Center at Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital, is that this amplitude reduction continues at about the same pace in the late teen years as in earlier years.
"There was a sense that the bulk of the change is happening in the younger adolescents," said Carskadon, the paper's senior author. "To see a continuation of this rapid and large change in the older adolescents was a surprise."
Their results appear in advance online in the journal Sleep.